The Significance of a Moment That Refers Only to Itself

In the second half of “Snow on the Desert,” Shahid shifts to describing a seemingly unrelated moment, a performance by Begum Akhtar in New Delhi; however, the underlying connection proves the power emotion has in relating seemingly disparate experiences. As Shahid watches his sister’s airplane depart, he sees his reflection in the darkened window and thinks of “another moment that refers only to itself,” a performance by Begum Akhtar that took place during the Bangladesh War for independence from Pakistan in the early 1970s (lines 57-58). The chaos of the war pervades the performance as the lights go out and the sirens sound. Shahid describes Akhtar’s voice, without the amplification of the microphone, as sounding “as if she had already died” (line 68). Here he anticipates her death, which occurred just three years after the war broke out, and thus the forces of loss begin to layer upon one another- those of the Native Americans in the first half of the poem, those of the war, and the death of Akhtar.

Shahid describes the moment he is in at the airport and the moment he reminisces about at this concert as ones when,

…only a lost sea
can be heard, a time

to recollect
every shadow, everything the earth was losing
(lines 73-76)

They are both moments of reflection on his personal loss, loss specific to his culture, and the world’s loss. In these two couplets Shahid draws together the losses of each section. He mentions again the “lost sea” that is now the desert, which Sameetah remarks on earlier in the poem as a loss of the landscape. As he says goodbye to his sister, we are left to wonder if this personal loss is temporary or permanent. Lastly, he ties in Begum Akhtar and the war as national and cultural losses. Thus, all the moments recall a vast projection of changes, from the personal and familial to the earth’s topographical changes. To continue the projection, he ends the poem with a projection of the loss of the future:

a time to think of everything the earth
and I had lost, of all

that I would lose,
of all that I was losing
(lines 77-80)

Here he shows how connected personal and global loss are, and how memory and recuperation are less personally significant than the feelings of longing and of losing that pervade all human consciousness.

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